Under the Sea: Driving on the ocean floor in a Chevrolet Tahoe
Exploring the briny deep with a different kind of full-size trawler
There is ample opportunity on this planet in which to have a fantastically unique driving experience. The giant redwood forests of California have provided the chance to drive through a tree, including the Shrine Drive-Thru in Myers Flat where the tree’s split was formed naturally. Highwood Pass is the highest paved pass in Canada at 2,206 metres (7,273 feet), and an extraordinary example of geological processes.
Or, you could head to New Brunswick and literally drive on the ocean floor.
Before your mind conjures up visions of driving alongside Spongebob Squarepants or any number of salty crustaceans, know that the world’s highest tides permit this feat. The Bay of Fundy coastal zone plays host to tides which, in some areas, reach up to 16 metres (about 50 feet), or about the height of a three-story building. Thanks to a natural phenomenon called tidal resonance, it is estimated that roughly 100 billion tons of water flow in and out of the bay during each 12-hour tidal period. This is a sum approximately equal to twice the combined flow of all the rivers in the world during the same timeframe, or the amount of water your author drinks after hoovering three slices of Big Bite pizza.
This amount of liquid movement exposes the ocean floor in weird and wonderful ways. Close to the town of St. Andrews, very near the Canadian-American border, a 500 acre lump of rock called Ministers Island (no apostrophe) sits in Passamaquoddy Bay and is only accessible during low tide. Originally settled by religious leaders in the area (hence its name), the land was eventually purchased by William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. During his tenure, the well-financed man built a palatial house and lavish barn for his prized Clydesdales and Dutch Belted cattle. Fun fact: the barn, constructed in 1898, contained airflow designs so advanced that the building smells nearly new even today — to say nothing of the ingenious methods deployed for analog automation of feeding and cleaning. It must have been regarded then by townsfolk in the same manner we look at a Tesla Gigafactory today.
Your author, whose formative years were spent in a rural Newfoundland town so close to the ocean that most residents could literally fish from their doorsteps, likes to joke that his home is found by simply travelling east ‘until you get wet’. Turns out, that’s the exact directions for finding one’s way to Ministers Island. One drives to the very terminus of Bar Road, finding a large paved turnaround and some interpretation plaques describing the area. Assuming the tide is out, setting a wheel past the macadam places one’s vehicle first on the Bay of Fundy shores and then, after a couple of metres, squarely on the ocean floor among the abundant tiny crabs scuttling sideways in search of food.
This, perhaps predictably, threw the navigation system in our 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe into something of a snit.
But the clear gravel bar ahead of us confirmed there was nothing to fear. In fact, it seems the kilometre-long stretch of ocean floor between the mainland and island is a popular spot for dog owners to exercise their pets or shift workers from nearby hotels to catch a bit of solitude during their lunch break. The 4×4 system in our Tahoe certainly didn’t need to be activated, though there are a couple of soft spots on the bar which are best avoided if you’re in a Civic or Corolla. This makes sense since the bar is under at least 14 feet of water at high tide. Indeed, we returned a few hours after our initial visit to find the aforementioned paved turnaround completely surrounded by frigid North Atlantic sea water.